Office crushes and romances aren’t uncommon, but what can HR do when one worker’s strong feelings aren’t reciprocated and they’re making the workplace uncomfortable?
Workplace romance is a common headache for HR, especially when it ends badly. However, what about when feelings are unrequited, sometimes with extreme results?
A recent US case shows just how bad it can get. A New York judge has extended a cease and desist order and restraining order against Ling Chan, an oversight examiner at Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) fell for co-worker Dan Small. In 2011 Small turned down her romantic advances, which resulted in constant emails, social media requests and small gifts.
Unfortunately Chan refused to take no for an answer and the situation escalated. She continued to ask Small out, while harassing co-workers for his mobile number and details of his relationship status.
Small asked someone in the HR department for help. The HR rep talked to Chan about her unacceptable behaviour, but her response was to ask him if he could pass on a love letter to Small. Eventually Chan was fired and attempted to file a claim against the HR department and her boss.
Since then Chan has applied 574 times to 82 different positions at FINRA, using a number of aliases. John Braut, an HR manager at FIRA, was harassed by Chan by being signed up to a number of adult magazines using his work email. According to court documents, Chan then slandered him and made threats online.
While this is an extreme example, workplace stalking is not uncommon. According to the experts at Stalking Risk Profile it can have negative outcomes including increased sick leave, decrease productivity and deteriorating job performance. The affects can also extend to coworkers, family members and other third parties. So what can HR do about it?
It is up to the employer to create an environment where victims feel safe to report stalking behaviour. “Central to this is making it clear that stalking victims are not to blame for their predicament, even if the victim was previously in a relationship with the stalker,” psychologist Dr Rachel MacKenzie. “Employers should also ensure that other employees are made aware of stalking situations when they have a role in managing the risks.”
Educate management and employees about bullying and stalking behaviours and what they need to do if such a situation arises. “It is crucial that employees do not feel that they will be judged as overreacting if they report something that they think might be trivial,” MacKenzie said. “It is better to praise the individual for being alert, rather than try to repair the damage that may arise if incidents are not reported.”
Develop and enforce strong policies on what constitutes inappropriate contact and harassment at work, either by clients or co-workers. Detail the process for dealing with aggressive or agitated individuals and for reporting complaints, suspicious behaviour and critical incidents.
Put safety procedures in place so the victim is safe coming to and from work, including a safe parking spot. If possible, allow the victim to work flexible hours so that they can vary the time that they arrive and leave work. Ensure that no one gives out any information about days or hours of work, phone numbers or other personal details.